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At worlds, U.S. ice dancers chase medals they missed at Olympics

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A question nagged at Madison Hubbell as she came home from the PyeongChang Olympics.

How do you let it go and move on?

Hubbell and her ice dance partner, Zachary Donohue, dropped from third after the Olympic short dance to fourth overall, struggling in the free dance. Donohue fell from one knee, putting his hands on the ice late in the program.

Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir took gold and French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron the silver, to no surprise.

The bronze, considered up for grabs among the three U.S. couples, went to siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who also earned bronze in the team event, skating both programs. The Shibutanis lost to Hubbell and Donohue for the first time at nationals in January but were given first pick in the team event because they had better international standing.

So neither Hubbell and Donohue nor two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who tangled skates and fell in their Olympic free dance, made a podium in PyeongChang.

“That was something we really wanted, and I really believe had we skated our best we would have been third,” Hubbell told NBC Sports research last week.

Virtue and Moir and the Shibutanis both withdrew from this week’s world championships, a common move for Olympic medalists at the post-Olympic worlds.

That makes Papadakis and Cizeron clear favorites in Milan. Hubbell and Donohue and Chock and Bates could both also make the podium as they begin paths to the 2022 Olympics.

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“We have moved on,” from finishing ninth at the Olympics, Chock said, “but it’s definitely going to stay with us and we’ll use it as fuel.”

Chock and Bates had the chance to lead the charge into PyeongChang after Sochi gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White stepped away from competition.

They topped the 2015 World Championships short dance but were passed by Papadakis and Cizeron in the free. In 2016, the Shibutanis overtook them at nationals. In 2017, they dropped to seventh at worlds with Bates erring on twizzles in their free. Now ninth at the Olympics.

Chock and Bates took two weeks off the ice after their free dance (including when Chock was ill after they got home; she is also bothered by loose bone fragments in her ankle that require post-worlds surgery). Messages of support poured in during that time, including a memorable note from a woman who works with Bates’ dad.

“She said my son has cerebral palsy, and I see him fall down and get up all the time. Seeing your son and his partner, the way they got up was a great example,” Bates said.

Hubbell and Donohue shared coaches and Montreal training ice with Virtue and Moir and Papadakis and Cizeron before the Olympics. They go into worlds remembering advice from the Canadians, who are expected to retire.

“We were really lucky to have Tessa and Scott all year telling us that the month after Olympics trying to get ready for worlds was ‘the worst month of your life,'” Hubbell said. “So we kind of felt prepared for it to be like Armageddon.”

Hubbell and Donohue were also in third place after the short dance at the 2017 World Championships. There, like in PyeongChang, Donohue fell during their free dance, and they finished out of the medals (ninth) with the Shibutanis moving up to bronze.

“I wish the Shibutanis were [in Milan] because last year I gave them my medal,” Donohue said, “and I don’t plan on doing that this year.”

No Virtue and Moir. No Shibutanis. Would it make a medal this week any less prestigious?

“Years from now no one will remember who was there and who wasn’t,” Bates said. “A world medal is a world medal.”

Key Short Dance Start Times (Friday ET)
Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 9:42 a.m.
Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 10:23 a.m.
Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 10:30 a.m.
Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 10:37 a.m.
Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje (CAN) — 10:43 a.m.
Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 10:50 a.m.

NBC Sports figure skating researcher Sarah Hughes contributed to this report.

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

Leanne Smith leads U.S. gold medalists at para swim worlds

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Leanne Smith has never competed at a Paralympics. Came into this week’s world championships with zero world medals. But she leaves London with three individual golds, most for any American, one year before the Tokyo Games.

Smith, 21, won the 150m individual medley, 50m breaststroke and 100m freestyle in her classification, all in American record times. The last two titles came on the final day of the seven-day meet on Sunday.

Smith, diagnosed with a rare neurological muscle disease called dystonia in January 2012, began swimming in 2013. By 2017, she broke a world record and then debuted at the world championships with a best individual finish of sixth.

The U.S. finished with 35 total medals and 14 golds, ranking sixth in the overall standings. Ukraine, usually strong at the Paralympics, led the way with 55 medals. Full results are here.

Jessica Long, the second-most-decorated U.S. Paralympian in history with 23 medals, earned six this week — five silvers and a bronze — to give her 52 career world championships medals.

Two-time Paralympian Mallory Weggemann earned two golds this week, giving her 15 world titles in three appearances (her others being in 2009 and 2010).

She won 50m titles in the butterfly and freestyle. Weggemann won a 2012 Paralympic 50m free title but was fortunate just to make it back for Rio after a 2014 accident that she said was harder to come back from than her teenage paralysis. She left Rio with no medals but a resolve to return for a third Games in Tokyo.

“I’m two seconds away from bursting into tears,” Weggemann said after winning the first of her two golds in the 50m fly, according to U.S. Paralympics. “I had a really rough go these past three years since Rio, so to finally be back after busting my butt to be here, and to be here in London of all places, is absolutely incredible.”

Fellow Rio Paralympians McKenzie Coan and Robert Griswold added two golds a piece.

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Heimana Reynolds wins skateboard world title, nears an Olympic goal from age 10

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In February 2009, a 10-year-old Heimana Reynolds was profiled by his local NBC TV station on Oahu.

“My goal is to become a professional skateboarder and compete in the X Games and the Olympics,” he said, according to the report.

Skateboarding would not be added to the Olympics for another seven years. But here Reynolds is, age 21, having just won the world title in park, one of two skateboarding events that debut at the Games in Tokyo.

Reynolds, who wasn’t named to the four-man U.S. national team in March, consolidated his lead in the Olympic qualification rankings by prevailing over a pair of Brazilians in Sao Paulo on Sunday.

A shirtless Reynolds scored 88 points in the final, beating Luis Francisco (85.50) and Pedro Quintas (85).

No more than three Americans can make the Olympic team in the event, which will make it difficult if three-time Olympic halfpipe snowboarding champion Shaun White decides to continue his skateboarding pursuit. White was the sixth-best American, bowing out in the semifinals in 13th place on Saturday in just his second contest since returning to competitive skating last year.

Back to Reynolds. He grew up on the North Shore and attended the Punahou School, where Barack Obama is the most famous alum. His first name is Tahitian, reportedly referring to the power of Jesus’ crown of thorns.

Reynolds, the son of a surfer, proved a natural on land. After pre-teen media profiles, he blossomed into a world silver medalist last year. He won an Olympic qualifier in China in July to take the top spot in the Olympic rankings despite a best career X Games finish of sixth.

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